Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fiddling Around with Nero

Last weekend I decided to try the Wetcanvas.com Portrait forum Challenge for July and August.  I shouldn't have.  The challenge turned out to be to paint from a sculptured bust with several to select from.  Foolishly I bypassed several lovely young ladies to take on ....yep....Nero.  That's where my troubles began.  Mistake #1

Day 1 the pencil drawing using a grid
The first day I printed out the subject using standard printing paper rather than photo paper.  Mistake #2.  The picture printed out dull and without the rich look of the original bust.  I didn't care since I convinced myself the print was only for the purpose of copying the head onto canvas and that the painting would be done from a computer monitor or iPad.  Using a grid system, I transferred the 8 x 10 photo to the 9 x 12 canvas.  I had a new panel from RayMar I wanted to try...triple primed, very smooth cotton canvas.  Nice stuff made for portraits. Wow it's easy to draw on too.  I rarely use pencil, preferring to draw directly with the brush but I wanted to proceed carefully so I drew it out. 
In an hour or so on the first day I had it blocked in.  I was OK with the progress. 
Day 1  the block in started. 

The second day I worked another hour or so to begin to refine the image a bit.  I find the block in stage to be the part of the process I like the best.  It always seems to go downhill from there. I was using synthetic sable for most of the block it.  For several years, I've used bristle entirely, but I'm beginning to move away from that. 

Day 2 Refining the image a bit


On the third day, I worked on getting a likeness while at the same time trying to paint a "statue" and not a real face.  I want this to look like a sculptured bust. In particular I wanted to correct the chin which I had much to far to the left.  At the end of this session, I was pleased with the general progress and the likeness.  I should have quit right there, but of course - Mistake # 3 - I didn't.  In looking at the painting, and more specifically, at the photos of the painting, I could see several issues.  The primary one wasn't a drawing problem -although there were a few of those at least -instead, I didn't like the color.  Somehow I had drifted into a very greenish cast to the shadow, no doubt a result of using unbleached titanium as a primary base color and adding ivory black for shading.  The mixture results in a green, which I should remember for landscapes, but which is unpleasant in a portrait.  (It looks better here than it did in life.)  Anyway, I decided I wanted to 'repaint' the bust to get closer to the richer base color and to get to a cooler, bluer gray in the shadows.  Not to mention that by now my new Isabey mongoose brushes had arrived and I was dying to try them out for the first time.   A perfect excuse to Fiddle with Nero some more.

Need I say it?  Tune in for the next post in which I manage to take four giant steps backward without saying "Mother May I?"


  1. Belle progression de votre travail... Il est toujours très intéressant de voir l'évolution... Ici Néron règne!
    Gros bisous.

  2. What a great post. Nero is quite a handsome guy. I can hardly wait to see the follow up post.

  3. I agree with the other ladies, it's a great post, I love to see works-in-progress, to see the evolution of a work or art. I also rediscovered painting at about the same age and after about the same hiatus. Wetcanvas.com is worth checking out again.

  4. Interested in Ruth Andre's plein air expedition, and found her link to you. It looks in photo that Nero's nose a tad narrow in bridge and not bulbous enough and shape of hair needs a tad shaping. Getting the contrast up in neck and the rest as you have the eyes would make BIG difference. I'm not a fan of using black for paintings myself, but I guess with a statue...It's a really nice beginning and we're all looking forward to next post of it!